The Art of Relaxation
I’ve always believed that we should make a point of playing at least as hard as we work.
My parents taught me that: They were both hardworking people who always made time for big-time fun and relaxation, and that outlook has influenced my entire approach to life. Fact is, relaxation in almost all forms is far more important than most people think – especially in our modern culture, which promotes what I see as an unbalanced view of work versus play.
Most everyone in watershaping, for example, knows that this business can be extremely hard work and that “the busy season” has become a year-round gig for many of us. Yet when you stop to think about it, we’re in the business of providing the very experiences to our clients that we all too often deny ourselves.
This begs the question: Would you buy bread from someone who doesn’t enjoy eating it? Or, more to my tastes, would you drink wine made by someone who doesn’t know the joy of sharing a great bottle during a good meal? The answers here are obvious, so I pose a more relevant question: How can we possibly provide luxurious relaxation if we ourselves haven’t mastered the art?
COUNTING THE PERKS
The list of obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of relaxation is impressive when you step back and take a look.
On the professional level, there is simple power in knowing how to have a good time. Whenever I travel anywhere for the purpose of consulting on or generating a watershape, to the best of my ability I make a point of arranging some sort of accompanying good time – often with my clients, but not always.
Not only does mixing business with pleasure make all sorts of sense from an enjoyment standpoint, it also enhances my ability to place myself in the clients’ mindset and tailor subsequent design work to the experiences they’re after. Perhaps I’ll come to appreciate the views their property offers through their eyes or learn something about family or local history that can be woven into the design.
Simply by spending time with them outside the bounds of a meeting – just relaxing – I find that I come to understand the sorts of activities they value most and get a much better feel for their personalities, lives and favorite experiences. Moreover, by speaking authoritatively on luxury, relaxation and fun, I inspire them and build their anticipation of the finished product.
And it’s not beside the point that I’ve made some very good friends along the way, which can have tremendous benefits when it comes to working through the process of designing the watershapes of their dreams. Breaking down social barriers in this way helps me, for example, provide input that can redirect the client’s thinking about relaxation. It’s a plain fact that many of the people for whom we work are so focused on success that they have a tough time even thinking about kicking back and unwinding.
Not long ago, I visited a client who took me for an afternoon outing on his 60-foot catamaran. Imagine the scene: We’re out on the water in this gorgeous boat, sailing just off Tortola past the end of St. John. It’s a beautiful day, with gentle breezes filling the sails, and we had little to do because the boat was fully staffed with a captain, a cook and a first mate.
I’m sitting on the back of the boat at a large teak table enjoying a cocktail, the view and some fresh guacamole. In the midst of what I can only describe as perfection on every conceivable level, the guy just can’t get away from his Blackberry. Noticing his fixation, I gently posed this question: “Wouldn’t it be great if someday you became so successful that you wouldn’t have to work while you were out on your yacht?” He laughed, agreed with me, put down the Blackberry and joined me in having a good time.
Time and time again, I’ve found that clients almost invariably appreciate the fact that I can relate so closely to their desire for luxurious relaxation. If they are among those who simply don’t get enough down time, they tend to envy it even as they enjoy it vicariously. If, by contrast, they’re among those who manage to escape the rat race on occasion, they value my perspective even more and appreciate the fact that I share their point of view.
Seldom (if ever) have I run into someone who’s so wrapped up in a hard-charging work ethic that they view my love of kicking back as some sort of negative. Indeed, even the most driven personalities have at least some room for appreciating the concept of relaxation: It’s human nature and, in professional terms, gives us common ground with most if not all of our clients.
I’ve used my own capacity for having a good time to great effect over and over through the years, and it’s to the point that relaxation is never far off my agenda, at work or on vacation, rain or shine: It no longer has to do with where I might be at the time. And make no mistake, the reason is only partly because my outlook tangibly benefits my work as a watershaper. In fact, I think if honing a competitive edge is your main motivation for embracing the art of relaxation, you’re missing the bigger point that kicking back from time to time is good for everyone – no exceptions.
So let’s get back to the benefits.
For starters, taking a break clears the mind and reduces stress – both of which increase creativity, sharpen mental acuity and are, in one way or another, good for your health both mental and physical. Down time also gives you opportunities to enjoy family and friends, engage in new experiences and gain an appreciation for hard work. Conversely, if all you ever do is work hard, the tendency will be to start resenting the process and/or deny yourself rewards you probably deserve because you “just don’t have the time.”
In other words, we all owe it to ourselves to chill out from time to time, regroup and recharge the batteries. Consistently, I’ve found that setting aside time for fun on the calendar gives me something to anticipate beforehand, something to enjoy in the moment, and something to remember fondly afterwards.
Your down time is also good for the people around you. There’s no question, for example, that getting away with family and friends reinforces personal bonds and almost invariably strengthens relationships. We tend to remember family times that involve recreation, getting close to friends and making new ones. And let’s be honest here: When it comes to sharing down time with our significant others, vacations and other breaks away from the routine are nothing but positive, mentally or physically.
WHEN AND HOW
Of course, there are always scores of reasons why we put off good times. After all, we’re in business to be successful, and when there’s work to be done, we tend to zero in on it and give it our total focus. That sort of ambition is truly wonderful, but only so long as your life has balance.
That’s why I believe that everyone should plan their fun and put good times on par with all the other events on our schedules. In my case, I go to great lengths to set up situations that lend themselves to feeling a sense of freedom from the rigors of daily life. This requires balance, too, in that you maximize fun by having a general game plan, knowing something about where you’re going and having some idea of how you’ll spend your free time.
In other words, planning in and of itself is not a chore if it adds to the overall richness of the relaxing. You can overdo the preparation, of course – too much planning will kill both spontaneity and the sense of adventure – so I always try to keep things loose and leave some things to chance.
Sailing, for example, is among my favorite of all recreational activities. What I love about it is that the boat itself is the destination: Once I’m aboard and out cruising around the Florida Keys, I’m where I want to be and everything else is optional.
Why have an itinerary in such a time and place? When I set sail, my only thought is to live in the moment, revel in the beauty all around me and indulge whatever pleasurable whims emerge as the days unfold. For me, that’s perfect balance in a planned activity in that the activity is defined by a complete sense of freedom.
Others get this same set of sensations in different ways, perhaps by riding horses or off-road vehicles, by fishing or hiking, by soaking up the sun on a beach or snorkeling to explore the universe just beyond the dry sand. It doesn’t really matter what you enjoy, so long as you take the time to do it!
The great thing about relaxation is that it’s an art form that works on all economic and social levels: You don’t have to fly to the south of France in a private jet to have a good time. In fact, it can be as simple as barbecuing franks over a firepit on the beach, or having a cold beer at a baseball game, or playing softball with your kids.
You could even argue that people who are not wrapped up in becoming or remaining affluent might have an easier time attaining moments of pure and simple pleasure. That being the case, I think we all can learn a thing or two from people who embrace the joy of tossing Frisbees in a park somewhere or listening to their favorite music on their patios after dinner.
TO EACH HIS OWN
To me, the key to full-range enjoyment of relaxing comes from learning how to pursue it in different contexts and settings. It’s easy to consider big vacations as times for relaxation, for example, but for a lot of people it’s not so easy to incorporate similar joy into daily life.
Some of us who are on the advanced side of middle age may remember a time when weekends were reserved as sacred days off. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point Saturday became part of the workweek, and now we see the decay of the weekend-off concept eroding Sundays as well. I certainly don’t take off both days every weekend, but I make sure that at least one of them involves relaxation.
I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking off two days out of seven, and I’m well aware that weekend fun can be terrific at keeping me focused during the rest of the week. Human beings really do need to recharge themselves, and based simply on my own experiences and my observations of others, it’s just not good to go weeks on end without a break. It wears us down in ways we might not even notice.
How difficult can it be to find 90 minutes during the workweek for a relaxing activity? Personally, I take about that much time out almost every week for a massage that wipes my mind, body and spirit clear of every ounce of stress and worry I might be carrying. Others do the same thing with exercise routines, playing racquetball, taking yoga classes, running, swimming, surfing or, perhaps best of all, just taking a walk.
There are countless ways to relax, and countless slots into which relaxing activities can be placed. Some of us probably do these things without even recognizing them, but that’s a shame in my book: To translate relaxation into a personal or professional positive, you need to be conscious of enjoying it, think about its benefits and figure out ways of making great situations even better.
That’s the level where the right attitude about relaxation can change your life and influence the lives of those around you, including your loved ones – and your clients.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at [email protected].